Friday, November 6, 2009

Building Community ...

One of the distinct advantages (or disadvantages if you prefer) to all of our modern technology and conveniences is our ability to accomplish a wide variety of tasks in fairly short order. We can get a new recipe from the internet, shop and have the contents delivered, microwave cook our new food adventure, and sit down to eat it in front of a large flat screen TV – all in record time, all by ourselves. We save countless hours relying on our technical abilities, but at what price to our humanity?

“Do not forsake the gathering of yourselves together.” This council was given in the time of Christ, and has been used recently to reinforce the idea of attending a formal church service. But I suspect the meaning (and value) of these words is far greater than we have applied them to date. Our very nature is not one that aspires to loneliness and isolation. While there are times we crave “some alone time”, the key word there is “some”. In truth what we usually mean by those words is simply that we crave a “relief” from the stressors that surround us. In general, humans have always been social creatures.

Clear back to the Garden of Eden, man exercised a unique particularity of his consciousness, and despite God’s original design – man was unsatisfied. Man became aware of his own isolation, by witnessing the pairing of every other animal species he encountered as he named them all. He saw firsthand the reliance on one from the other, he witnessed intimacy even if only rudimentary in its definition, and he wanted what he saw. Adam might have been less lonely had he been in direct contact with God all of the time, but this was reserved more for evening walks than minute to minute socialization. Adam saw the work of creation as missing one important element.

The genesis of Eve into the world met the need Adam had identified. As a part of him, she would be his helper, his heart, and more to his need – a constant companion. Even as Eve entered the world, the new council from God was to stay together to avoid the pitfalls that must be placed in perfection. In order that humanity be given a true choice, Satan would be allowed a small representation in their garden home to offer his own – “alternatives”. God’s original council of defense against this danger was to stay together to meet it. It was the first casualty in a series of decisions that resulted in our condition we face today.

The simple truth is that groups of people are harder to defeat than single individuals. There can be greater strength in numbers when in humility all are willing to listen and learn from each other. We are told we represent the “body” of the church. Each member has a unique function relative to the body’s whole. Those who represent the “eyes” of the body can perhaps see truth others might miss, but they are ill-prepared to take the action that those who represent the “hands” might be able to do. One identifies, another responds, still another offers a different type of assistance based on their role in the body. None are greater than the other. None can exist well without the other. None was ever told they represented the entire picture themselves alone. It takes more than one to represent the church, it takes community.

The problem with modern technology that ever pushes us into further and further independence is that the subtle message we adopt becomes that we “need” no-one else to survive. Our communal body starts reacting like the patient who refuses an organ donation. We reject our brothers, because they do not fit well with our view of the body. If I were an “arm” for example, I might not like what the “leg” looked like. It is too long, too thick, not as nimble as I am, and therefore judge its value as minimal at best. So we look around us devoid of humility, and from our singular perspectives, we use our truth to drive others away from us – leaving our body crippled and near death. This is the reason why churches look the way they do today.

The message of self-help, self-awareness, self-discovery does not lend itself to socialization or dependence on the whole for results. No just the opposite, it focuses the eyes in the mirror to find all the answers, and ignores the council of groups. Our greatest enemy “self” is bolstered by modern thinking that praises individuals above community. It destroys within us even the desire to be around others, unless to further reinforce our ego by demonstrating our superiority in one form or another. This thinking is the hallmark of all evil, and runs completely counter to the clear word of God on this topic. Leaders who encourage their flocks to “try harder” to defeat evil only leave them frustrated and still wanting.

Whether we like it or not, we are not as independent as we think. We need others. We need God. As each of us is incapable of permanently vanquishing evil from our hearts, our minds, and our desires; we must DEPEND on God to do this work FOR us. In this matter God works alone. But as His work is invisible, God recognizes our continued need for socialization and reminds us not to forsake getting together. The work of Salvation, that is, the work of saving us from sin and evil itself, is done by God alone, for each of us, in a one on one setting. It is highly personal and private. But the results could no more be kept secret than trying to hide a brilliant light in the darkness.

As we become changed we begin to offer help and hope in a world with little of either. Though the victories are not really “ours” as we do not do the work – we certainly benefit from the gift we are given. Freedom! Freedom to think, to love, and to share unburdened by the former evil that held us back. Evil holds us down, poisons our minds, and paralyzes our will to act. But freedom from evil as brought and wrought by our Savior has an exact opposite effect. It is invigorating. It is inspiring. It causes us not to accept the status-quo any more. It makes us Brave. It drives us with energy to move forward. This is something the world lacks. And when they see it, they will be curious about it, after all those in darkness will respond when they see a great light. Too few of us have discovered the light of reliance on God to be able to share it thus far, but the kindling is catching on.

There is wisdom in the minds of others. God speaks to each of us in the ways we understand. And if we are willing in humility to hear it, we can learn His lessons in the mouths and lives of those who surround us daily. Not everyone who offers us council speaks for God, but everyone who loves has something of value to offer. Carry important questions and decisions back to God in prayer, but do not blind yourself to the answers you seek in the lives of others. Think drinking alcohol to be a good idea? Consider the life of the alcoholic closely and learn what is possible for those that drink. Think helping out a homeless shelter is a good idea? Consider the life of those who help, and find out what makes them do it. Try it out for yourself. Make a difference to someone else, and then come tell me if you can beat that feeling some other way.

Remember your role in humility. If I am to be the “eyes” of the body of Christ, then I am probably ill-suited to speak as His “mouth”. I am not the best at running as His “legs”, nor do I hear as well as His “ears”. Do not be overwhelmed by allowing others to ask you to do more than your role would provide. You are not supposed to be every vital organ in the body, just the one you’re suited to. If your body lacks a “mouth”, then seek one out, don’t try to simply “add” it to your list. We are supposed to be a community. Our community is supposed to look out for one another, even when it is not so convenient to do so. We are to gather together to draw strength from each other’s strength, and cloth the weaknesses in each other.

In practical terms, this may mean you help someone out changing a car tire when you see them in need. No-one enjoys changing a tire, but everyone appreciates help when they need it. It may mean you do the dishes and clean the kitchen up for your family. Again this is a thankless job, but it has meaning for someone, especially if you’re not the one who usually does it. It may mean you click on the advertisements on my WEB site or my BLOG that Google provides as this is how I make a living right now. No, you don’t need to actually buy anything, I get paid per click not per purchase :)  But more importantly, it means you recognize your need of the rest of His body to make you the stronger person you can be. It is our community that makes us His body …

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